The Simple Pleasures of La Reyna...
After a long ride in a four wheeled vehicle deep into South Austin I saddled up my brand new hog and rolled northward up S.1st street through Mexican restaurant alley.I was completely starving and my mind was racing with all the possibilities of Mexican deliciousness in the area.Ruled out Torchys[10 bucks for 2 Tacos and a beverage is usurious]....Habanero was closed...Tacqueria Arandas;good but weary of the menu...leaving me with La Reyna,one of my old stalwarts when I lived in the hood.
I love La Reyna's flour tortillas;with little blister marks and fatty flavor they make a fine shell for their carne asada[plump,slightly chewy beef filled with essence of steer]....grilled onions and a squeeze of lime is all you need to complete their taco experience.The thin yellow queso with lots of chiles is good....approaching Janitzio in quality but not quite there.The refried pintos have great texture but need more pork in their flavor profile ,nevertheless a little lime juice and salt make them perfectly acceptable.Chips and salsa are whisked to the table moments after you're seated and are good if unspectacular.Heavy cilantro content on the salsa,not enough heat but good fresh flavor.Chips are better than average due to their being served blazing hot.Service is very amiable,the waitresses are partying,happy to be nearing the end of the shift and off to their evenings' folly.
20 plus years of serving good,if unspectacular food to the Bouldin Creek neighborhood speaks clearly to La Reyna's appeal.I could list each item on their menu and rattle off 2 or 3 joints that are better on each count.Still,the menu and execution is solid,affordable and delivered in a friendly inviting atmosphere.If you've never been to La Reyna go.It's far superior to it's nearest neighbors;Polvos and La Mexicana which are both mystifyingly popular.
The simple pleasures of La Reyna apparently do not lend themselves to am tortilla production.
Moto business had me down in Bouldin Creek the other morning and I was chafing at the bit to get some good Mexican breakfast in me.
Habanero's is getting killed by a mammoth road construction project at their front step so I opted for a visit to the Queen.
When I bit into my flour tortilla all I could think was iSECUESTADORES!.
Had kidnappers burst in the back door that morning and hustled the tortilla lady off to God knows where?The tortillas were that bad.They really reminded me of Tamale House for awfulness.
Tough,thick chewy dough bombs.
The Huevos Rancheros on the other hand were good;properly fried eggs,a good Ranchero Sauce and some very tasty,semi-stewed Potatoes that were nicely seasoned.The refrieds were good but once again needed more Bacon fat to go to the next level.Service as always was fast and friendly.I really hope the tortilla lady just called in sick and they pressed a dishhand into service.Or something.
I'm afraid that I had the same experience with their P.M. flour tortillas last week, scrumptious. Their tough and chewy texture was compounded by the fact that they were no longer hot, too, even though they were served in a tortilla warmer. In terms of flavor, these medium-thin non-baking-powder-style flour tortillas were shortening-rich, but it didn't taste like they had used lard as the shortening.
I also had the refried beans that day, which were as you described them but also a bit undercooked. The ones that weren't mashed were actually slightly crunchy. The so-so carne guisada was on the dry side. It seemed like the meat had been browned and then dropped in gravy at the last minute rather than slowly stewed.
This was my first visit, so I have no sense of how things used to be. But maybe breakfast plates are the way to go until they improve their tortillas?
Our La Reyna conundrum is surely the result of staffing.They probably have one Alpha tortilla maker who carefully plys her craft and the bounty of this ability is delicious.Other tortilla makers are perhaps less skilled but they have to get their hours in too.If South Austin beckons again I'll do some recon on the name of this ace tortilla cook[much like calling Backstage and making sure Raymond is working] and report back.
When I read the threads for Tex Mex this n that on the board I laugh boisterously.La Reyna is rarely mentioned and little respected in spite of her status as anchor of South 1st Street's much ballyhooed gauntlet of Mexican food.
It's good in a way...you never have to wade through the cognoscienti to get to your table.Instead her diners are a good mix of blue collar hard hats,semi-professional workers from the neighborhood[loan title clerks,motel auditors,the stray neon bender or two]....the occasional biker and housewife rounds out the mix.
I like to park in the side lot and enter through the back door off the patio on the southside of the restaurant.I feel like this lets the staff know right off the bat that this is your spot and you've been down this pike before.
I'm immediately greeted and within moments brought a frosty old school Coke tumbler filled with ice water,a basket of blazing hot Totopos and a small monkey dish of Red Salsa.
The salsa varies from day to day.Today it's good and hot with a touch of cilantro.Otherdays it's not so hot but very herb-y and sweet.I'm in a rut on my food ordering.I almost always get the same thing:A tub of Queso,A Beef Fajita Taco and a side of Refried beans.This bounty will set you back less than 6 dollars and it's a lot of food.
The Tortillas are homemade,flour and delicious.The Taco is HUGE,pushing a half pound of seared,charred beef and covered with delicous fried onions.I love the Queso,it's Tex Mex style,thin and spicy with chopped Jalapenos all up in it.The Refried Beans are above average,creamy with plenty pork fat and elevated nicely by a squeeze of fresh Lime juice.
Service is good.I'm checked after regularly by a team of pros.4 workers at one point or another ask after me during my half hour or so feed.
The setting is classic,old-school Mexican joint.Light on the frippery,heavy on icy air conditioning with the requisite Norteno soundtrack driving the diners through their meal.
When I lived in Bouldin Creek La Reyna was my spot.She opens early and serves a very fine breakfast.Coffee is served in vintage[looking]La Reyna mugs with a fetching queen smiling from the side.I'm nowhere near Bouldin Creek anymore but still trek down once a month or so for my favorite Tex Mex fix in Austin.
Scrumptiouschef, you should ask next time if they have any "morning salsa" just to try it out. It's a cooked salsa that I swear has beef stock or broth in it despite the fact that a vegetarian friend introduced me to it. I love their refrieds but they do need either a squeeze of lime or a bit of salt at times. I normally frequent L-R for breakfast (so!dang!cheap!) but have gone at lunch or for dinner, too. Love their tortillas and only once in years have I had any that were "off". My fav waitress is Mary...can't miss her when she's there, she has a Tammy Faye Baker hand with her makeup, vivid eyeshadow and all. She's great!
The simple pleasures of La Reyna also extend themselves to the realm of pork. A recent morning breakfast found my Huevos Divorceados accompanied by a fried pork chop at an added cost of $1.79.
If nearby Torchys had a pork chop on the menu it would probably run about $15 and I doubt it would taste half as good.
The classic huevos are a perfect over medium,the egg on the left napped under a bright red ranchero sauce,the right egg covered by a light green blanket of tomatillas.Good refried beans and papas guisados,potatoes stewed with onions in a delicious broth are my sides or in this case,centers,as that's the portion of the plate they occupy.
Starchy,homemade flour tortillas are there for swiping through the messy deliciousness.It's apparent La Reyna's "a" team tortilla cook is in the back plying her craft as these are approaching greatness.
La Reyna's been around since 1974 and doesn't appear to be going anywhere anytime soon.A steady stream of folks stroll in and out of the diner during the half hour or so we're there. A trio of big Mexican cats are at a nearby table hunkered down over steaming bowls of menudo,an insurance salesman looking guy has tossed his tie over his shoulder while he whales on a plate filled with breakfast tacos,a couple waitresses tend to the needs of the flock-whipping through the room with baskets of chips and coffee hotteners.
It's a good scene.
Wow. This is the *first* time I've heard anyone say anything even remotely positive about La Reyna. I gave it two tries when I first moved here and was stunned at how bad it was. Everything tasted either stale or straight from the can. Did I just totally miss something both times? I am really, really curious -- can some other people here chime in on this one?
re: cousin dave
cousin dave, scrumptiouschef speaks the truth. While La Reyna won't hold up against the best Mexican food in town, it was my local favorite when I lived in that hood. I like it better than Polvo's, La Mexicana, and the rest of the joints I visited. South 1st sure looks cool; too bad most most of the local food options are so disappointing.
It isn't complicated, and it isn't quite what I'd call delicious, but it sure ain't bad.
I love La Reyna. It is what I imagine Tex Mex joints looked like back in the 50's & 60's. I always get 3 beef fajita tacos that are served with a very spicy pico de gallo. The wife always gets the gorditas which are very tasty. If you go in the morning, there's a 2nd hot sauce that's served hot...I swear it may have ground beef in it but I'm not sure.